Author: Imaan Tahir
Embryonic screening first arose from the need to screen babies with a predisposition for genetic disorders such as sickle cell anaemia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis ,and other inherited disorders for which it is difficult to find a cure. The inception of PGD has therefore been thought of as an important alternative to regular conception for couples who are carriers of recessive or dominant genetic
diseases. Rather than take the chance of the child possibly being affected, some couples would choose to adopt, use donor gametes, or even just go childless. There have also been some at risk couples who have conceived and then undergone prenatal testing. If the result was positive, they would abort. But this selective termination, along with its arguable ethical issues, is also a difficult, expensive, and emotionally and physically burdensome experience on the couple.
PGD, therefore, offers the alternative of screening embryos rather than fetuses, thus avoiding the need to terminate a pregnancy in order to ensure an unaffected child. A couple selecting this approach would have to forego coital conception and undergo the costs and rigours of IVF, but may have a higher chance of successful pregnancy than would most infertile couples using IVF.
However, in recent years, the use of this technology has raised concerns over the possibility that the use of this among couples who do not necessarily need to screen their children for diseases may create a culture of elitism among children, since other traits are also able to be screened such as hair and eye colour, etc. Use of PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) to screen embryos can even allow parents to select the gender of their child. Children that were not prenatally screened maybe looked down on as inferior due to the fact that their traits were not specifically selected, an issue that raises deontological questions – many people believe that it is inherently wrong to select the characteristics of one’s offspring, however well intentioned. Some people in the deaf and dwarfism communities, for example, are offended at their DNA being described as having ‘genetic anomalies’, and at the perception that their qualities are disabilities to be avoided. Does this promote the idea that people with conditions such as these are lesser and undesirable to have in society, and how does that affect the mental health of those with these illnesses who are already alive?
It is therefore uncertain whether the use of PGD, and embryo screening in general, will become popular, due to the moral issues many have with it, but is nevertheless an incredibly useful tool that should not only decrease the number of deaths caused by serious gene disorders, but will also improve the quality of lives of many children, since there will be less children with disorders that make it difficult to function normally in day-to-day life.
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